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Are You ACOA Or ACOA+

Oct 9, 2007
My dad and mom owned a bar so at a very early age it became very easy for me to be around people who drank all the time. From the time I was a kid I thought that the whole world drank and got drunk. My dad was a binge drinker and he would go off on a bender every six months or so. He would be gone from one to three days. I always asked my mom where dad slept when he was gone and she would say in the car. I wasn't sure who drove who crazier, mom or dad. Dad would drink and drive mom nuts, but when dad was sober mom would say things to dad to get under his skin. So I wasn't sure if mom drove dad to drink or dad's drinking drove my mom to make those comments. I didn't really drink as a teenager, but started to drink when I go married the first time. I drank a lot during the summer, especially when I bartended at a restaurant in Belmar, NJ. As I became unhappy in my marriage I drank more and more until my drinking got a little out of control and I became frightened of my own behavior and my thoughts. I knew on some level that I had a major problem, so I started to read all I could find about my drinking. I came across this acronym in a book, ACOA. I discovered it meant Adult Child of an Alcoholic. I read more and discovered that somebody hooked to a bunch of symptoms to the condition, 13 to be exact. What an unlucky number. Let me enumerate them here:

ACOA's ...

1. Guess at what normal is.
2. Have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.
3. Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
4. Judge themselves without mercy.
5. Have difficulty having fun.
6. Take themselves very seriously.
7. Have difficulty with intimate relationships.
8. Overreact to changes over which they have no control.
9. Constantly seek approval and affirmation.
10. Feel that they are different from other people.
11. Are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
12. Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.
13. Have money dysfunction, such as hiding it or being disorganized with it.

After reading this list and the article associated with the list I concluded that I was an ACOA, dysfunctional, needed therapy, was warped, hated my parents, and had no business being married to a girl that I had known for ten years. Great, great, so now what? So what I did was come up with a lot of excuses for my behavior, act more like an idiot than ever before, get into therapy, and then divorce my wife. I began to walk around and wonder if every move I made was related to me being an ACOA. I began to argue for my own weaknesses and became more and more irresponsible.

This went on for about five years until I started to learn the benefits of my time in history and my upbringing. There are benefits to our up bringing. Too often we look at the downside of how we were raised. I was a baby-boomer as was everyone else in my age bracket, and I would bet that many of us have looked back at our lives and begun to wonder how did we ever get this way. I decided that I could go on hating my life or I could look at what benefit I got from my upbringing. I realized I could use my past to help the future. I was 36 years old (in case you're wondering I am 52 now) when I started to realize that this ACOA thing was not an emotional death sentence but rather an opportunity for me to put things in perspective for myself and my children.

I had an epiphany of sorts one day about three years ago. I was riding around in the car with my daughter Grace who was about 7 years old at the time. I told her a story about my dad and we both ended up in hysterics. So whenever Grace and I were together, I would tell her another story about my father from my childhood. We had a great time laughing together. One day Grace came to me with a list she had compiled of these stories; there were 12 of them about my dad that she had kept track of on paper. All of these stories had come out of that dreaded ACOA environment that I lived in. You know the place that screwed me up. They were so funny now that it didn't matter that my dad had the personality of an alcoholic because all Grace knows is that I don't, and she and I can laugh together about all of the insanity that I went through as a kid. I have read all kinds of books about how I got the way that I got. How I got here doesn't matter. What matters is what I am going to do now that I am here. Most people that I have spoken to want to read a book and discover something to do right away in order to make change. They are not interested in why they do what they do but rather how to stop, like right now.

My daughter taught me how to change real quick, laugh about it and enjoy the person you are with while you are laughing. For me it was Grace who showed me the blessings of my past.
About the Author
Jim Burns is one of America's most inspirational educational speakers. His humorous and insightful presentations touch and influence his audiences in an unforgettable way. Best known for his presentations on Bullying, Motivating Disaffected Students, Diffusing Power Struggles, Character Education, and Leadership, Jim has worked as a teacher and administrator since 1977. He is also an accomplished college instructor who teaches graduate level courses in the areas of Cooperative Discipline, Disability Awareness, Brain Compatible Methods in the Classroom, and Teaching and Learning through Multiple Intelligences. For more about Jim Burns http://behavioral-management.com/
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